In the days of empire, when Great Britain governed vast areas of the globe, peacekeeping roles were the army’s bread and butter. In fact, they still are.
It is as true today as ever that a British officer’s judgement, tact and diplomacy in a delicate situation are valued as least as much as lethal force.
Christian Schofield, as well as being one of the Olympic Trap representatives on the BICTSF board, is a serving major in the infantry. I met him in his office at Land Warfare Headquarters, Warminster, to talk about the challenges currently facing British shooting and his ideas for its future.
A native of Yorkshire and living near Barnsley, Schofield was introduced to Olympic Trap by other well known Yorkshiremen David Wragg and David Wright. It was always the challenge that appealed to him, he said, being of the mind that if something was worth doing, it had to be difficult. He joined the army via Sandhurst as a young subaltern; clay target shooting was at that time something the officer class used as practice for game shooting. Schofield was happy to join in, and found that the army provided clay shooting competitions of every kind – such as the Combined Services Cup, which involved Trap, Skeet and Sporting.
Soon Schofield was in the thick of it. The 1992 Game Fair at Stratfield Saye was the scene of an early triumph, in which he was presented with the CS Cup by the Queen. In this period, the army also began to appreciate the importance of the international forms of shooting, and for a time the Olympic disciplines were incorporated into the Army Championships. This produced a number of good soldier shooters, including David Beattie of the Royal Irish Regiment who won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Not only taking the opportunity to compete in Olympic events, Schofield involved himself in the organising and administration of these competitions, so it is easy to see why his role with the BICTSF fits him like a glove. This is reflected in his appreciation of how the various shooting organisations work, the roles they play and how they might cooperate in the future for the benefit of British clay target shooting as a whole.
I asked him if the ISSF’s constant rule-changing with the Olympic disciplines helps or hinders their growth and popularity. “In the matter of rule-changing you have to understand where the ISSF is coming from,” he said. “The Olympic Games every four years is their only opportunity to showcase the sports they administer, so they have to make it as appealing as possible to what is predominantly an uninformed audience.
“That said, to stage OT, OSK and DT in this country as a mirror image of the Olympics may be a mistake. It is a matter for debate, but certainly all the implications of it should be considered. It is important, however, that shooters seeking selection for British Teams must have the opportunity to practise and compete according to the rules as applied in the Olympic Games”.
All this is fine, but without significant numbers of shooters to choose from, any form of selection procedure is less meaningful. Schofield acknowledged that rule changes such as those reducing the course of fire from 200 to 125 have lost us shooters whose main objective was to shoot targets, but appreciated that we need their involvement. “Without their participation,” he said, “standards of shooting will drop, with a tiny handful at the top of the rankings just walking into the team. That’s not good for them or GB’s chances of competing successfully abroad.
“The other reason is money, in the form of entry fees. In the past, Trap was the biggest generator of cash of all the international disciplines. Now it isn’t. The costs involved in staging all aspects of selection shoots and championships, including the prizes, which are intended to attract participation, have to be met. If entry fees are not sufficient, we need to identify new funding streams. That could mean anything from staging other shooting competitions alongside the main one to standing at the ground with a bucket. Everything should be considered, and it really is time for some blue sky thinking.”
With Great Britain’s biggest obstacle to success in the Olympic disciplines being a lack of participants, it seems various ideas are being mooted to attract greater numbers of people. This usually means being obliged to attend selection shoots, with all the attendant costs of travel and accommodation. One idea to solve this problem is to invite shooters to instead submit their scores from three separate competitions of their choosing. If the results meet the selectors’ criteria, they would be invited to a single selection shoot, the placings from which would decide the composition of teams to represent Great Britain abroad.
Christian said he and the BICTSF Board would welcome shooters’ views on this suggestion, and are open to other ideas. To encourage shooters to engage in this debate and to let their opinions be known, Schofield stressed, is vitally important both to select the right people and to demonstrate that the selection procedure is fair, transparent and open to all.
The other option for team selection is the squad system. I asked Schofield if this was still on the table and if there were any plans to extend coaching facilities to shooters other than those that are government funded.
“Certainly we would make it available to those shooters in a squad system if it is adopted for Olympic Trap,” Schofield confirmed. In his view, in both men’s and ladies’ Trap there may be another six shooters who could possibly earn a place in the British Team under the right circumstances, and extending a selection system to more people could enlarge this pool of talent further. Nothing has been properly discussed yet, but it’s important, he said, that discussions are held soon. With regard to all these issues, Schofield is anxious to extend the debate to as many people as possible and for all views to be well publicised.
At present, though, so far as Olympic Trap is concerned, the first-past-the-post system is still in place regardless of whether a shooter is funded. A procedure, however, has now been agreed whereby two places in each team are open to everybody, but a third is reserved for a funded shooter, regardless of his current ranking, if it is decided it is important he should compete.
It is vital, Schofield affirmed, that in 2013, where there are no Olympic quota places to be won, all those concerned come to a decision on matters relating to selection procedure, coaching and funding – not to mention where we apply the new ISSF rules as regards the finals of competitions. “It could be we see the sport being divided into two camps,” he said, “for example the fundamentalists who insist on replicating the Olympic procedure at every event, and others who feel that out of necessity we have to widen the appeal of going Olympic Trap shooting by other means.
“I sincerely hope this will not be the case, but one thing is certain: we at the BICTSF cannot stand alone. There will be changes, and people may have to swallow a little pride and make some compromises, but it will be for the greater good. We now have people who work for the BICTSF, the CPSA and British Shooting – good people who I believe want shooting in all its forms to succeed and grow.”
In my view, if Christian Schofield – clear thinking, pragmatic and a consummate team player – is a typical example of these people, they will succeed.